It’s the title of a nonfiction book trending on audible.com right now and it hits so close to home that I cringed a little when I read the synopsis. The title question is related to the Nazi massacre of the Jews, gypsies (the Romani) and homosexuals, but the answer is as short and simple as the 47 page book. So how do you kill eleven million people? You lie to them.
Campbell tradition dictates that to be a part of the clan you must be able to spin a good yarn. A believable story that will set the hairs on your neck upright and tingly probably isn’t quite good enough. A good yarn is full of fabrications, implicates at least three people in the room of misdemeanor wrongdoing, and suggests strongly by implication that interfamily relationships are not as conciliatory as they appear. Or as my mother would so redundantly state the obvious, “they’re damned good liars.”
It’s a documented fact. The Scottish family crest is comprised of a rather ferocious looking boar’s head, with big fang teeth and a banner which says “Ne Obliviscaris” which translates to “forget not.” My first reaction to the translation is a knee jerk question, “forget what? What lie, and to whom?” The surname Campbell is a derivative of a Gaelic word cam buel which translates to crooked mouth. There are some who believe that the origination of the name really meant speaks out of one side of the mouth, or again the American translation, big fat liar.
In 2001 Gaelic was spoken by 1.2% of all Scottish households. As a result of the census results, Scotland passed the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act of 2005, designed to impart Gaelic as a national language in addition to English. Of course it was England who regulated Gaelic into the doldrums in the first place in 1616, by abolishing and declaring the language illegal in Scotland. It is in the interest of all Campbell’s everywhere that the Scottish peoples forget Gaelic, again. After all who wants to be known as the family of liars, especially when it’s true?
In 1993, Bill Clinton assumed the presidency from George Bush Sr., Czechoslovakia splintered itself into two nations, and Janet Reno became the biggest joke in Florida. While the democratic world rejoiced, dissolved, or laughed itself silly, I was called to a family cortege. We never had family meetings. Ever. Babies were born, old folks died, no meetings. Not one.
According to an aunt who flew in for the occasion, the doctors had poked, prodded, consulted and concurred. The test results were conclusive. Grandpa had stage four lung cancer. The clan was in an uproar, with whispered thoughts of “How long does he have? When will it happen?” Grandpa, our reluctant patriarch, after smoking Camel cigarettes unfiltered for 60 years, and working in the coal mines of West Virginia as a young man, was dying of cancer. The official calendar ran out in six months, with medical treatment the prognosis might stretch to twelve months, but no more. Put your affairs in order grandpa and get ready for the great hereafter. Understandably many of the clan were upset by this news, while other folks of the doubting Thomas persuasion wanted to see the test results for themselves. After all the aunt was a renowned liar and we had learned to hedge our bets.
Having had a lifetime of lectures from my saintly mother on my not growing up to be a “Campbell”, I am a terrible liar. My face flushes bright scarlet just thinking about lying, and when I do strike up the nerve it’s a feeble pathetic attempt at best. This means that when the defecation strikes the whirling blades I must keep as silent as a church mouse. These are my only choices; either absolute silence or surrender my surname in shame. Shakespeare was right; discretion is absolutely the better part of valor.
Upon hearing the horrible cancer news all I could think was you brought me here for this? He’s smoked since he could wedge a cigarette between his little chubby fingers. Of course he has cancer.
I know that sounds harsh, especially coming from me, his granddaughter. I agree. It is an incredible cold hearted and harsh thing to think, but you didn’t know the man. I did.
The first six months passed quickly with no real change in grandpa’s wellbeing, so did the twelve month drop dead period. Grandpa’s health hadn’t gotten any worse. No chemotherapy, no radiation (specific or otherwise), and no surgical procedures, nothing. No trips to the hospital, at all, not one. During his presumed death march he was fit as a fiddle and touring the country working out the last few items on his bucket list. Visiting friends and family, staying for extended periods with distant relations and generally milking the diagnosis for all the sympathy and generosity he could garner.
A full three years later, grandpa found refuge with his sister’s family in the hills of Teay’s Valley in rural West Virginia. Living with his sister was difficult in only one aspect. He must smoke outside.
He awakened early one morning, intending to step outside for a quick smoke before breakfast. In his dazed half-awake stupor he chose the wrong door. Mistaking the cellar door for the exit, he stumbled, falling head first down a steep ladder like flight of stairs. Striking his head several times on the treads between risers caused his skull to crack and fracture like an overripe melon dropped from an overpass into oncoming traffic. Injuries sustained at the scene were insurmountable and he passed from this life in the dark dank cellar, cigarettes and lighter in hand.
When my grandfather died it was said of the corpse, “there lies the body of truth, because god knows it never came out of him while he breathed.”
I silently agreed, thinking the doctors did say that smoking would kill him.